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Dickemann v. Costco Wholesale Corp.

Supreme Court of Missouri, En Banc

May 22, 2018



          Paul C. Wilson, Judge.

         Following a work-related injury, Andrew Dickemann ("Dickemann") filed a workers' compensation claim against his employer, Costco Wholesale Corporation ("Costco"). A final award granted Dickemann permanent total disability benefits to be paid weekly. Two years later, the parties agreed Costco would make a lump sum payment to fully satisfy Dickemann's award. The parties requested that the Labor and Industrial Relations Commission ("Commission") approve this agreement, but the Commission declined to do so on the grounds that: (1) the Commission has no authority to approve the agreement as a "settlement" under section 287.390;[1] and (2) the Commission cannot approve the agreement as an application for a "commutation" because Costco's proposed lump sum payment was not equal to the commutable value of the future weekly payments Dickemann would be giving up, as required by section 287.530. Dickemann appealed. This Court has jurisdiction under article V, section 10, of the Missouri Constitution, and the Commission's decision is affirmed.


         In July 2010, Dickemann was injured in the course and scope of his employment with Costco and he filed a workers' compensation claim. A hearing was held on Dickemann's claim before an administrative law judge ("ALJ") of the Missouri Division of Workers' Compensation. The ALJ awarded Dickemann permanent total disability benefits in the amount of $799.11 per week, to be paid weekly beginning retroactively on March 1, 2013. Because neither party sought review by the Commission, the award became final in April 2014.

         In November 2016, Dickemann and Costco entered into a "Stipulation for Voluntary Settlement and Agreement to Commute Award" (the "Agreement"). Pursuant to the terms of the Agreement, Costco agreed to pay Dickemann a lump sum of $400, 000, which the parties agreed would fully and finally satisfy Dickemann's award of weekly permanent total disability benefits. In the Agreement, Dickemann acknowledged he voluntarily accepted the terms of the agreement, he understood his rights and benefits, and there had been no undue influence or fraud.

         After the Agreement was signed, the parties presented it to the Commission with a request that it be approved. The Commission refused to approve the Agreement, however, on the grounds that: (1) the Agreement was not a "settlement" of a "claim, " which the Commission is authorized to approve under section 287.390; and (2) the Agreement failed to meet the requirements for a "commutation, " which the Commission is authorized to grant under section 287.530.[2]


         In Dickemann's sole point on appeal, [3] he claims the Commission erred in refusing to approve the parties' Agreement, either as a "settlement" of a "claim" under section 287.390, or as a "commutation" under section 287.530. Dickemann relies upon Nance v. Maxon Elec. Inc., 395 S.W.3d 527 (Mo. App. 2012), and its progeny, which hold a post-award agreement to forego weekly benefits in exchange for a lump sum payment is a "claim" for purposes of section 287.530, [4] and the Commission is bound to approve that agreement if the employee fully understands his or her rights, has agreed to the settlement voluntarily, and the agreement was not procured as the result of undue influence or fraud. Because this Court rejects this argument and affirms the Commission's decision not to approve the Agreement, Nance and its progeny should no longer be followed.

         This Court's review of the Commission's decision is governed by section 288.210. The Court "may modify, reverse, remand for rehearing, or set aside the decision of the commission on the following grounds:" (1) "the commission acted without or in excess of its powers;" (2) "the decision was procured by fraud;" (3) "the facts found by the commission do not support the award;" or (4) "there was not sufficient competent evidence in the record to warrant the making of the award." Id. On review, this Court is bound by the Commission's factual findings, provided such findings "are supported by competent and substantial evidence." Id. This Court is not, however, bound by the Commission's conclusions of law. Id. Additionally, questions of statutory interpretation are reviewed de novo. Spradling v. SSM Health Care St. Louis, 313 S.W.3d 683, 686 (Mo. banc 2010).

         "The primary rule of statutory construction is to ascertain the intent of the legislature from the language used, to give effect to that intent if possible, and to consider the words used in their plain and ordinary meaning." Wolff Shoe Co. v. Dir. of Revenue, 762 S.W.2d 29, 31 (Mo. banc 1988). "Absent express definition, statutory language is given its plain and ordinary meaning, as typically found in the dictionary." State v. Brookside Nursing Ctr., Inc., 50 S.W.3d 273, 276 (Mo. 2001) (internal citation omitted). "The provisions of a legislative act must be construed and considered together and, if possible, all provisions must be harmonized and every clause given some meaning." Wollard v. City of Kansas City, 831 S.W.2d 200, 203 (Mo. banc 1992) (internal citations omitted). "The legislature is presumed not to enact meaningless provisions." Id. (internal citations omitted).[5]

         The Commission was correct in determining it could not approve the Agreement as an application for a "commutation" under section 287.530. This statute provides:

The compensation provided in this chapter may be commuted by the division or the commission and redeemed by the payment in whole or in part, by the employer, of a lump sum which shall be fixed by the division or the commission, which sum shall be equal to the commutable value of the future installments which may be due under this chapter, taking account of life contingencies, the payment to be commuted at its present value upon application of either party, with due notice to the other, if it appears that the commutation will be for the best interests of the employee or the dependents of the deceased employee, or that it will avoid undue expense or undue hardship to either party, or that the ...

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